30 days in Eswatini: Reflections from a detour

The Global Entity picture of Mbabane Eswatini

MTN Bushfire: A catalyst for change in festival tourism

Going to MTN Bushfire Festival in Eswatini last year was one of the most amazing experiences to this day. It catapulted my life in a completely different direction and today I am going to share with you why. Firstly, despite my best effort to get a group together for the Bushfire festival, I ended up going alone. To simply go to a festival in a country you’ve never been in before, on a continent far from your own, felt like an achievement in itself. But what really made the difference was how beautifully the festival was organized. I felt so safe. There was such abundance for every sense to enjoy. It completely blew all my fears and prejudices away. Somewhere in between all the dancing, conversations with strangers, random poetry slam sessions and midnight adventures, I could feel how my brain started to tick. It was almost like I could feel somebody turning up the dimmer on the light bulb above my head.

As I walked through the tents, the sun was rising in the pink morning above Bushfire, other memories started filling my mind from similar scenarios. Similarly rosy mornings, tents with thousands and thousands of people from different corners of the world, the beat that never ends, and the endless connections. Only, these memories weren’t from here, no, they were memories from my early adulthood. Me and my friends used to travel Europe in search for the best festivals, it was what our whole year surmounted to. The Festivals! We would always come home feeling inspired and wiser, enamored with life and what lay ahead. How come I did not see the same traffic of travelers and tourists for festivals here in Africa? The literal definition of creative abundance. 

The Global Entity Bushfire experience

The day after Bushfire Festival ended, I was in my friend’s car going from Eswatini to Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. It was a seven hour drive and I sat the entire ride thinking and processing what I had just experienced. Before coming on this journey I did a bachelor in Global Studies, which is basically learning to analyze why the world is crap, but my career is based in sales. As I sat looking out at the Eswatinian mountains passing by me, the different factors were spinning around in my head: international tourism, lack of information, fear and misconceptions, cultural appropriation, exploitative tourism, the longing to belong, Ubuntu and the knowing that we are all connected. All of the thoughts surrounded the core question that has been circulating at the top of my mind ever since I started solo traveling in 2015: How can we travel in a just and kind way? Meaning, in a way that strengthens the locals in whatever way they define as valuable and that enables exploitation free structures for interaction between locals and tourists.

The concept that kept coming up, and that has followed me around ever since, was Social Sustainable Tourism. Despite having studied sustainability for almost three years straight, social sustainability always seemed to be the less conceptualized one. The definitions were many but the implementation of Social Sustainability in businesses and structures seemed lacking. I started to see how festivals, with their international reach and huge local impact, both in terms of jobs, pr and representation for local artists and crew, could be a huge trendsetter for sustainability within two industries: the culture and arts industry as well as the tourism industry. When we arrived at the border, I was denied entry into South Africa, saying I had to go back to my country of residency before entering again. I had counted on being able to spend the next three months in South Africa, surfing on the couches of friends but this definitely threw out those plans. This also made me pause any and all thoughts of Social Sustainable Tourism and Festivals for a while. 

You can read about my full MTN Bushfire experience here, here and here!

The Global Entity at Bushfire 2023, day three camping

Solo traveling: an unexpected turn to Eswatini

My failed attempt to enter South Africa led me right back to Eswatini, where they gave me another 30 days without hesitation. Thank goodness. Traveling solo without a concrete plan is a full time job in and of itself so I decided to book myself into the same hostel that I had stayed at during Bushfire: Legends Backpacker in Ezulwini. I hadn’t planned on spending time in Eswatini so having a base that was familiar felt good. I was meant to spend the three months in South Africa writing a second bachelor thesis in International Relations, but I was feeling utterly uninspired right now.

Contrary to common assumption, considering my lifestyle choices, I don’t do well with changes and uncertainty. Having my three months-in-South Africa plans disrupted deeply unsettled me and I could not for the life of me focus on writing a thesis. Instead I spent my 30 days in Eswatini in Tanya’s car as she drove us around mountain up and mountain down. I met Tanya in Mozambique as she was traveling but she is  actually works in Ezulwini with Swazi Trails. Eswatini is breathtaking. There is no other word for it. It is completely enveloped in mountains and everything is intensely green. Nature is so predominant, you hardly notice the buildings. 

The Global Entity solo traveling Eswatini

Tanya and I drive around for hours talking about life and what we want. We listen to music at full volume and laugh as people stare. She is certainly a sight to see, Tanya, as she sits behind the wheel of the huge jeep. She is the shortest lady I know and barely looks old enough to hold a driving license. Furthermore, she is a Swazi woman driving a jeep, not a common sight here. Let me just say jaws dropped and heads were turned when she pulled through! Sitting there, letting the landscape pass us by, it started to feel pretty okay to be uncertain about the future. Gosh, I was even uncertain about the present! As Tanya took me to yet another beautiful sunset, at yet another beautiful Swazi peak, I started to accept that maybe I wasn’t supposed to be in South Africa right now. Maybe I wasn’t even supposed to be writing a thesis right now? The thought of letting the thesis go and sitting with complete uncertainty about what I should be doing with my time felt both crazy and just right. So naturally, that is what I did. 

One afternoon as Tanya and I are out doing errands, she turns onto a very beaten up road. It takes us into a township. The dust from the road colors every house and tree in the area into a monochrome scale of brown. It makes the kids kicking a deflated football around look like bright Christmas lights in their colorful t-shirts. They all stop and stare as Tanya pulls up and parks. “This is where I grew up.” She explains and jumps out of the car. As soon as she is outside everybody comes to greet her, they want to know who her strange friend is. She takes me around, sharing different anecdotes about what her life used to be like here. We quickly get invited into her family home and soon I find myself in a couch with lots of people coming in and out wanting to say hello. I get something to drink and after a while everyone settles down.

Global Entity Solo Traveling in Eswatini

Suddenly the father of the house turns to me and stares into my eyes. “What is your name?” I repeat to him that my name is Julia but he shakes his head vigorously and asks again “What is your name?” Tanya looks at my confused expression and intervenes “He means your Swazi name Julia. What is your Swazi name?” I explain that I don’t have one and he turns around and starts arguing with Tanya in siSwati. How can it be that your friend has been in Swazi this whole time without a name?! Tanya just laughs. Without further ado, he takes a swig of the beer, stands up and declares “You! You are Temave! Temave… Makhanya!” The family erupts cheers and laughuter. When the commotion subdues, Tanya leans over and starts explaining. “In siSwati, words can have multiple meanings depending on the context but Temave,” Tanya says. “Means the worldly person, or one that has traveled a lot. Makhanya, means the one who lights up or the light bringer.” I smile. What a gift! The traveling light bringer, I send out a prayer for there to be something prophetic about that. 

When we drive home that evening, my heart is full. A whole month has passed in Eswatini, and as peaceful and uneventful as this place has been, time has gone by in the blink of an eye. I think I needed this month to let myself adjust. Letting go of South Africa and my plan to write a thesis felt scary but right. I was curious about what would take its place instead. When we got home it was time for me to start packing, Mozambique was waiting for me!

2 thoughts on “30 days in Eswatini: Reflections from a detour”

  1. Monica Andersson

    Fint att läsa. Förstår vikten av vad som hände, att det inte blev mer Sydafrika utan back to Eswatini, mer nu när jag läser detta.

    Vackert namn du fått. Passande 💖

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